Finishing Last

“I’ll be the slowest one out there.”

“I’ll be last.”

In every race, someone has to finish last. True. And no one actually has it as a goal to finish last. Like Jennifer’s friend in this article I have often said “Chances are, that’s not going to happen.” I mean, come on, if there are 1000 runners in the race it is a 1:1000 chance right?

There are many runners at many levels who have expressed that fear to me. Beginning runners fear being last. Freshman college and freshman high school runners fear finishing last at their new competition level. Many runners racing a new (i.e. longer) distance fear being last. Runners coming out to a new running club fear being the slowest (aka “last”) in workouts. Masters runners (40+ years old) dropping down into an open track meet fear being last against all those young ones.

Let’s break this down a bit. Fears are borne out of illogical and disproportionate emphasis on the negative impact being last will have. Fears are also based on an emphasis on what “others might think”. And fears are about protecting our egos.

Think about this. If everyone gave into that fear then one by one the last person in a race would drop out to avoid finishing last. This would domino its way up the field until – there is just one person left – the leader of the race. Only one person can win. Only one person will be last.

To temper that fear of finishing last (however you define this) we need to change perspectives or reframe the situation. Stop. Take a deep breath. For a moment suspend your image of finishing last. Now reflect on the following questions.

  • Why do you run, for others or yourself?
  • What REALLY is the worst that would happen if you did finish last?
    • Do you really think you’ll be marked for life and everyone will point at you at Starbucks each morning whispering about how you were that last runner in this weekend’s race?
  • What would happen if you purposely finished last?
  • What do you gain – how do you grow – or what might you learn about yourself by racing (finishing last or otherwise)?
  • What if joining that running club/team (even if you are currently slower than others) is in fact the very thing you need to improve your running?
  • Is it possible that you will be seen as someone who dared; someone who dared to do something instead of sitting on the sidelines?
    • By fighting your fear you not only become your own inspiration but an inspiration to others as well.

It’s not a huge, unspeakable embarrassment. In fact, no one cares. Not one of the other runners remembers I was the one who finished last. And all my friends and family remember is I said I’d run a 5K and I did it… A couple of days after the 5K, when my aching legs felt better, I laced up my sneakers and went for a run. Because I’m a runner. And, fast or slow, runners run.- Jennifer Hudak



About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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6 Responses to Finishing Last

  1. Nicki says:

    I have finished last. The race that holds that distinction two years later became my half PR. I knew there were people I had passed that didn’t finish at all so I was not upset about finishing last as I finished.

  2. I’ve run 32 marathons so when people ask me about starting to run marathons and their fear of coming in last I relate the story of my Wenatchee Marathon. This was my 5th marathon with a marathon field of 165. And, YES…I came in last…3 minutes from the cut off time…when I crossed the finish line they took it down almost immediately. The best part…the world didn’t end! The people that were there cheered for me as must as every other marathon I have run. I look back on that race and hold that one up as one of my most memorable because of this not in spite of it.

  3. You are a runner. Go to any golf course and look at some of the clowns who say they play golf.
    It really does not matter. We all enjoy it , why else would we do it? Well done.

  4. Dean Hebert says:

    Excellent point! Thanks for commenting.

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